Oh, 80s hair how we miss thee.
Or perhaps not.
What killed those voluminous ‘dos that marked an era? I’d like to think it was common sense and a cultural awakening to the hilarity of big hair. I also wonder, though, if the media’s coverage of the discovery of a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica had something to do with it. Though the science on the harmful nature of CFCs (commonly used as a propellant in applications like aerosol cans of hairspray) had been around for nearly 30 years, it wasn’t until the mid-1980s that the story of ozone depletion and the possibility of climate change was piped into homes across America.
Mark Maslin’s Global Warming: A Very Short Introduction is a fascinating look at the science behind the study climate change, the coming effects of a net increase in global temperatures, and possible solutions that could stave off the worst of those effects. Maslin is unapologetic in his support of the science that examines the human element as a primary contributor to rapid climate change since the Industrial Revolution, yet he does his best to appeal to readers who are still skeptical. Beyond unseasonable weather and higher fuel prices, Maslin warns of the dire consequences to the world’s least developed nations if climate change is not adequately addressed.
In countries already beset with poverty, hunger, and disease, climate change will only bring more of the same. Larger swings in seasonal temperatures will intensify the heat during the summers and destructive flooding during the winters. Access to potable water will continue to decline and malarial regions will expand. As more countries chase biofuels as an alternative to fossil fuels, food prices will rise due to a decrease in arable land devoted to the production of food crops. In short, unmitigated climate change will increase global poverty and result in the deaths of millions of those already among the world’s poorest.
In most developed nations, the science of climate change is accepted and governments are working together to hammer out domestic and international policy to address emissions reduction. My country, however, lags far behind the rest of the international community. We’ve turned the debate from science and solutions to politics and pontification. There is still a large swath of Americans who remain unconvinced of the science behind climate change. Why? Is it because they’ve examined the evidence, applied their vast intellect to the hypotheses, tested them and found them to be wanting in their conclusions? I doubt it. It is more likely that their distrust of the science is driven by political-ideological convictions.
But certainly Christians, who have a biblical mandate to care for the created earth (Genesis 1:28) and bring relief to the poor (Luke 4:18; 14:13; Matthew 25:31-46) welcome the support of the scientific community in addressing these shared concerns, right? Unfortunately, that is not universally true. Some Christians hold to an eschatology that believes God will destroy the earth and its inhabitants in an apocalyptic maelstrom after spiriting away the redeemed to an ethereal heaven. They view the earth as disposable and attempts to care for it are perceived as pagan Gaia worship. They interpret Genesis 1:28 as a license to dominate creation and the Gospel exhortations to care for the poor are spiritualized to refer to the “poor in spirit.”
I think, however, that more than bad theology there is an emotional/psychological reason why people, Christians or not, are reluctant to buy into the science behind climate change. As scientific evidence mounts in favor of an undeniable human element in climate change, more and more people are struck with cognitive dissonance, denial, and maladaptive practices. This often results in anger, depression, or denial that one’s worldview is being affectively challenged.
Clive Hamilton, a Professor of Public Ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics and author of Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change, suggests three positive coping strategies for processing through the facts and feelings associated with human responsibility in climate change: “First, expressing and controlling emotions such as anger and despair may be a healthy response to anticipated climate change. However, remaining indefinitely within these feelings can be debilitating, leading to apathy and resignation, so the objective is to manage and transcend them. Secondly, to overcome fear of the unknown, one healthy response is to find out more and form a clearer picture of the future. Adopting problem-solving might impel people to act – itself an effective response to depression – with others so as to prepare for a changed climate. Thirdly, developing a new value orientation is a means of healthy adaption.”
Maslin firmly believes that any real solution to climate change must be global in scope and leverage the power of the international community. I’m not so optimistic that the international community will work together to draft, pass, and enforce a global solution. However, there are lots of little things that individuals can do right now, today, to begin making a dent in the problem until the international community hammers out a more comprehensive solution. But first, we must face up to the reality of climate change. This means facing our fears, owning up to our responsibilities, and sacrificing bits of our “way of life” in order that other generations and other communities might also have life, both now and in the future.
So, where are you in all this? Do you “buy into” the science behind climate change? If not, why not? If so, what are you doing about it? If you are a Christian, how does your faith influence your thoughts and actions related to climate change?